Professor Galactic is a seasoned Nerf gun modder. So I decided to interview him to find out just how he gets his blasters looking so damn good. Here’s what he said…
No self-respecting adventurer in the space time continuum would commence their journey without some form of trusty sidearm. Who knows what perils lurk on the edges of time and space?
Time travel being largely theoretical and imaginary in this day and age a Nerf gun is a perfectly viable and adequate option. As a huge fan of the Steampunk genre I wanted weapons that to my mind were in keeping with my steampunk costumes. There are many examples to admire and inspire on the internet and I decided to have a go, embracing the do it yourself ethic of punk and steampunk.
When I started on my journey, painting plastics was new ground for me, I skipped the painting models and miniatures phase of many a young man in favour of more textural art endeavours. So, I was behind the curve of many fellow Steampunk weapon smiths. One year on I still consider myself on that journey and every day is a school day. I will break down what I have learned so far into a few categories:
1) Choose your weapon-on selecting and prepping your project.
2) Materials- tools, paints and inks all in here.
3) Techniques- execution and final touches.
Choose your weapon
When you begin your first project I recommend not splashing out on a full price Nerf gun. There are cheaper alternatives out there to practice on. The imitation super soakers can be acquired at a very reasonable price, I do recommend avoiding the models with the softer plastics that have an almost greasy feel to them, paint does not generally take well to them and tends to flake off no matter how much varnish you use.
I would also consider getting a gun that you do not need to take apart for honing your skills on.
Some makers like to sand down the guns before applying the primer, this will help the paint take and it is a chance to add weathering effects; but it’s not mandatory. It is also not unusual to remove logos through sanding.
If you are planning to sell the gun on with ammo, then I recommend you do not remove the CE mark. I sell mine as cosplay props without ammo, just in case.
Once you have prepped your gun to your satisfaction then it is time to prime it. You are most likely using spray paints so make sure you take necessary precautions in terms of ventilation. I do all my spraying outside, I use Hycote matt black, I have in the past also used a matt grey but was not happy with the result, seemed a bit washed out. Don’t worry about getting the whole item sprayed in one go, be patient, let it dry then do the bits you could not get to first time round.
In this section I want to talk about the various products I have used starting with the most important- the guns.
By far the most popular Nerf models in the steampunk makers and modders scene are the Maverick and the Strongarm. My personal favourites and bestsellers are the Rough Cut and the Doomlands Persuader, neither of which need disassembling to paint.
For primer as mentioned previously I use matt black Hycote.
For the painting of the gun proper, for the next layer I use a variety of water based acrylics and some enamel paints. A lot of weapon modders like the Games Workshop paints, let’s face it they’re designed to go on metal and hard plastics so you should get satisfactory results. Personally, and equally popular are the Vallejo paints. I have a WW2 Allies Acrylic set, which is great for grey and brown tones, downside being I have a few greens that are not used. I also have the Vallejo Game Metallic Colour set, which is great and has some very pleasing metal tones, highly recommended.
I also have matt black and metallic black Vallejo paints bought individually, a tube of burnt sienna oil paint, black and peat brown Windsor & Newton inks, satin and gloss interior wood varnish. A few tins of Humbrol enamel paint a variety of brushes and usually some of my infused rum for inspirational purposes.
To start, having ensured my gun is completely primed and dry I cover the main metallic areas with whichever colour I have decided to allocate, most Nerfs have detailing on that break nicely into different zones.
Metallic paints have differing consistencies based on the colour, some colours will take a few layers to build up to good looking result, patience may be required, generally I will do several guns in one go and rotate, work one colour on whichever zone I pick for a given gun and work my way through all the guns, By the time I finish the rotation the first gun is pretty much dry.
For the wood effect on the handles I start with a layer of light brown enamel then use a fairly coarse brush with either darker brown acrylics or the burnt sienna oil paint. If you’re using the oil paint, make it the last thing you do to the gun for at least a day, it takes a long time to dry. I have a few fingerprints covered prototypes that can attest to this!
Once your basic colours are on it’s time for a little detailing, I use black paint to delineate between the different colour zones, it’s very simple and very effective. Where false screws are moulded onto the plastic filling the grooves with darker paint make them look a little more realistic, in addition painting the false screw heads a separate colour to the surrounding area works well too. If you do the same colour scheme for any or all screws consistently across the weapon it improves the look and feel.
Don’t ever be afraid to experiment, you can always remove or paint over areas that you feel do not work.
Once happy with your painting you will want to protect your efforts from wear and tear. I use indoor wood varnish for this, but there is nothing wrong with spray varnish either. I use satin or gloss finish on all of the painted to look metallic parts and then either a satin or gloss finish to add to the polished wood effect.
Every steampunk weapon smith has their own preferred materials and techniques and in my experience, are happy to offer advice. You can find me on Etsy here: